July 1, 1931

CON

Richard Bedford Bennett (Prime Minister; Minister of Finance and Receiver General; President of the Privy Council; Secretary of State for External Affairs)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. BENNETT:

That does not help any.

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LIB

William Lyon Mackenzie King (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Liberal

Mr. MACKENZIE KING:

May I draw

the attention of my right hon. friend to the case he cited to this committee? He spoke of a civil servant in the foreign office in Great Britain whose name had been brought into a discussion. This man had been dismissed from the service and considerable discussion took place in the House of Commons.

Supply-Royal Grain Commission

In the course of my remarks, I said that if a civil servant were guilty of a misdemeanour or if his work were of a character which demanded his dismissal, certainly his name might be brought into public discussion and nothing could prevent this being done. In such a case the minister would foe obliged to make some public explanation as to why the officer was no longer retained. However, so long as a civil servant is performing his duties in a department and the minister did not find it necessary to dismiss or suspend him, the minister must take full responsibility for the actions of his officers. In the latter part of his remarks my right hon. friend admitted that. He did so when he said that a minister was responsible for his staff and for what they did, but then he veered away from the stand he had previously taken and said: This officer had ceased to be one of my officers; he was made the secretary of the commission and it was as secretary of the commission and not as an officer of the department that he is responsible. Let my right hon. friend read his own opening remarks and he will see that he began by admitting quite frankly that the error was one which had occurred in his own department At that time he was seeking to protect or excuse the Minister of Trade and Commerce and he stated that as Minister of External Affairs he must take the responsibility for the mistake which had occurred. I think it would have been better for him had he held to that ground.

May I go a step further. I do not agree with my right hon. friend in what he says about his obligation to lay a document on the table of the house without first perusing it. He is responsible for everything he does. My right hon. friend was responsible-this is the crux of the whole situation-for the appointment of the commission itself and as a consequence of his having appointed the commission he becomes responsible to parliament for any of its errors.

Topic:   TRADE AND COMMERCE
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?

Some hon. MEMBERS:

Oh, oh.

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LIB

William Lyon Mackenzie King (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Liberal

Mr. MACKENZIE KING:

Hon. members laugh, but I wyuld like to know if this is not true where ministerial responsibility begins and where it ends. If a government appoints a commission which proves unworthy of the confidence of the government, or of parliament, the government must take the responsibility for its own act. That is one of the responsibilities of a ministry which appoints a commission. When hon. members laugh they simply disclose the fact that they do not appreciate the elementary principles of ministerial responsibility. The government cannot get away from full responsibility for any executive act. The appointment of a royal commission is an executive act and the ministry must take responsibility for every act of the commission. The government may not be satisfied with the actions of a commission, they may if they so desire dismiss it, but in that event they must come to parliament and take the responsibility for the dismissal. If a secretary or any other officer of a commission makes a mistake, the ministry cannot escape full responsibility for the consequences of the mistake. That is why I say it is the duty of the ministry, before presenting a report to parliament, to make sure of what appears in the document. If the ministry are not to be responsible for what is contained in reports, it would be open to any member of the public service if he so desired to libel any citizen in the report he might make. A report when laid before parliament thereby receives publicity which it would not otherwise receive. One of the many obligations resting upon a ministry is to make sure of everything which in connection with the administration of public affairs is made public. They are at the same time obliged to give to the country all documents requested by members of parliament, unless there is some good and sufficient reason for not doing so in which event they must take full responsibility for their refusal. I submit that if a commission makes a report in connection with which there is a slip on the part of some officer, that slip should be detected or the ministery that has appointed the commission becomes responsible for the consequences of publicity. The ministry would be justified in case of a slip, and it is the one thing which they cannot be justified in not doing, in withholding a report until the slip is rectified, and the document put in such shape that its accuracy would be beyond question when presented to the public through parliament. I do not say that the ministry must necessarily agree with the particular views expressed by a commission or anything of that kind; they may repudiate the views, but they cannot repudiate full responsibility for the appointment of the commission which was expressed therein and all acts in connection therewith. They have no right to shield themselves from the results of errors by bringing into public discussion on the floor of parliament the names of members of the public service who are not here to speak for themselves.

Questions

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CON

Henry Herbert Stevens (Minister of Trade and Commerce)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. STEVENS:

I move that the committee rise, report progress and ask leave to sit again.

Progress reported.

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At eleven o'clock the house adjourned without question put, pursuant to standing order. Thursday, July 2, 1931.


July 1, 1931